When it comes to yeast, there are 5 basic types of yeast ...
- Active Dry (Traditional) Yeast
- Instant Yeast
- Bread Machine/Pizza Yeast
- Rapid Rise (or Quick Rising) Instant Yeast
- Fresh Yeast
Let's explore each type and the differences ...
Active Dry (Traditional) Yeast
Active Dry Yeast is the original type of yeast that your mother or grandmother would have used, as well. Active Dry Yeast MUST BE ACTIVATED IN WARM WATER. This process of activating in water is called "proofing" the yeast. The water to active dry active yeast should be about 110F. Using water that is too hot can kill the yeast. Using water that is too cool can lead to a very long rising period.
Active dry yeast is a two-rise yeast, meaning that you mix the dough and let it double, before shaping. After shaping, you will need a second rising period, before baking. It also tolerates cold-proofing well.
The down-side of Active Dry Yeast is that it is well known to be unstable and somewhat unreliable. It has a fairly short shelf like, it's potency declines over time and it can sometimes fail without apparent reason.
Instant yeast is nothing more than active dry yeast, without the protective coating. The lack of protective coating means that Instant Yeast doesn't need to be activated by water. It can be added directly to the dry ingredients, which is very convenient!
That said, while you don't need to proof Instant Yeast in water, you can certainly do so, if you like. This makes it easy when following a recipe written for Active Dry yeast and just following along with the water proofing instructions, instead of having to make any adaptations.
It's worth noting that Instant Yeast can tolerate a warmer proofing water than Active Dry Yeast, tolerating a temperature up to about 130F.
Instant Yeast is a two-rise yeast, similar to the performance of Active Dry Yeast and also tolerates cold-proofing well. It also has a long shelf life and if kept in the freezer, will stay good for up to two years!
Bread Machine/Pizza Yeast
Bread Machine Yeast or Pizza Yeast is essentially Instant Yeast, just with some slight additives to best suit the use (bread machine or pizza making). While best use for its intended purpose, it will perform similarly to Instant Yeast. Long and slow or cold-proofed doughs might perform less well with Bread Machine Yeast as opposed to Instant Yeast.
Bread Machine Yeast is, of course, intended to be added directly to dry ingredients, which is how bread machines work. Bread Machine Yeast also keeps well.
Rapid Rise ( or Quick Rising) Instant Yeast
Rapid Rise Instant Yeast is Instant Yeast, that has been coated with yeast enhancers that offer up quick and enthusiastic activation right out of the gate. As a result, it virtually eliminates the standard first rise of traditional active dry or instant yeast. Always refer to the instructions on the yeast container. Some will suggest shaping right after mixing, while others might suggest doing a short 10-minute resting period after mixing and before shaping. In either event, Rapid Rise yeast is a time saver.
Rapid Rise Yeast might seem like a great choice for it's time-saving qualities, but, when it comes to yeast baking, time = flavour, so while you shorten the rising time, you may sacrifice a bit in terms of depth of flavour. Typical yeast breads, in particular, benefit from the traditional two-rises for best flavour. Rapid rise yeast is best suited for sweet rolls (like my Chelsea Buns) or quick dinner rolls etc.
Rapid Rise Yeast should be added directly to dry ingredients and not proofed in water, similar to regular Instant Yeast. Rapid Rise Yeast also has a long shelf life and is quite reliable. The down-side of Rapid Rise Yeast is that it is unsuitable for doughs with a long, slow rise or for cold-proofing. These limitations mean that Rapid Rise Yeast should never be the only yeast in your kitchen, but it does have its place.
It's worth noting that in a pinch, if Rapid Rise Yeast is your only option that proofing it in water will effectively remove the coating that results in the "quick" part :) So the soaking will, in effect, turn Rapid Rise Yeast back into regular Instant Yeast and that will allow you to proceed with the traditional two rises of conventional bread making. Again, this is "in a pinch" :) It is always better to use the right yeast for your baking project.
Fresh Yeast is very much a niche yeast product and is unavailable easily in many parts, so I'm not going to spend a lot of time on it. If you have and use fresh yeast, you are no doubt well-versed in using it and adapting it to recipes using active dry or instant yeast.
Summary: Which Yeast to Use When
- When to use Active Dry Yeast: I say pretty much never :) Given the disadvantages of Active Dry Yeast, there is really no reason to chose it over Instant Yeast, which performs equally well, without the downsides. Active Dry Yeast is rarely used in professional baking settings, so why be saddled with it in our kitchens.
- When to use Instant Yeast: Pretty much all the time! Instant Yeast is the best all-round yeast to keep in your kitchen. It's effective, stable, has a long shelf life (especially when frozen) and it's easy to use, since it doesn't need proofing in water. Simply throw it in with the flour! Instant Yeast is the yeast of choice for professional bakers, so that is about the best recommendation we need.
I use Instant yeast for about 95% of the time. I love SAF Brand Instant Yeast (affiliate link). It comes in a large, vacuum-packed package, that I empty into a freezer container and store in the freezer. I use it directly from the freezer. It will keep in the freezer a long time (up to 2 years!), so I don't worry about not using it up.
- When to use Rapid Rise Instant Yeast: Rapid Rise Yeast is perfect or the times when you want a yeast-baked treat in a hurry. I don't think Rapid Rise Instant Yeast should ever be the only yeast in your kitchen, as it doesn't produce the best results for longer-rising or cold-proofed yeast products. When it comes to bread, time = flavour and this is the place where Rapid Rise Yeast will let you down when it comes to bread. That said, Rapid Rise Yeast definitely has it's place for quick bakes or simple sweet rolls, etc.,so my best advice is to stick to recipes that have been developed specifically for Rapid Rise yeast, for best results.
Adapting recipes for different kinds of yeast
Now that you understand the different types of yeast, you can easily adapt any recipe for whatever yeast you have on hand ...
- If using Instant Yeast in a recipe written for active dry yeast, simply add the amount of water used for proofing directly into the bowl with the other liquids in the recipe, without proofing the yeast in it.
- If using Active Dry Yeast in a recipe written for Instant Yeast, simply take a small portion of the liquid in the recipe and proof the yeast in it.
- If using Rapid Rise Instant Yeast in a recipe written for Active Dry or Instant Yeast, simply replace the 1st rising period with a 10-minute rest and proceed with the recipe as written. *Again, this is not always a recommended substitution, as the short rising time means you will probably sacrifice some in terms of flavour of the finished baked goods. A better option might be to proof the Rapid Rise Yeast in water to turn it into Instant Yeast (as detailed above), and proceed with the recipe, as written. Rapid Rise yeast is best used in recipes developed for Rapid Rise yeast and where Rapid Rise yeast is specified as the yeast of choice.